The Arab world has a historic opportunity to use the new American President Donald Trump’s first trip outside the United States to make some cogent points on the many important issues that challenge the region. It is an extraordinary compliment that Saudi Arabia will host Trump’s first state visit, and the Saudis have wisely timed it to coincide so that Trump will also attend the mid-year Gulf Cooperation Council summit. They have also invited several other Arab and Muslim leaders who will join a third summit with Trump. It gives the Saudis a significant opportunity to show leadership in the region that badly needs a strategic direction back to the sanity of the rule of law and rejection on anarchy and chaos.
The series of meetings is part of an important Saudi initiative that can show how the Arab world is committed to being an active player in the global community and is willing to bear its full responsibilities in working with its allies in helping to manage the affairs of the world. Trump’s ill-considered remarks on the cost of defending American allies in the region needs to be put into context on the true cost that everyone is helping to bear, and the benefits of helping stable and prosperous nation-states survive the turmoil that is challenging the region at present.
There are some specific points that the Arab leaders present in Riyadh can make. The situation in Palestine is of foremost importance. Trump will go to meet Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu straight after the Riyadh summit and his casual references to being willing to listen to any plan needs to become more nuanced. History shows that it is very unlikely that an American president will put enough pressure on Israel to back down, but it is also true that Trump owes nothing to the Zionist lobby in Washington. He might be able to make the radical leap that has eluded all other US presidents.
On Iran, Trump has moved the US far closer to the Arab position that resents Iran’s continual and malignant interference in the region’s internal affairs, as he will review the nuclear deal and take a much tougher line on Iranian activities. It is also important that America is ready to offer more active support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen that is fighting to rebuild that country. Be as it may, the Trump administration listening to its allies in the region is a good beginning.